Getting your Boss to Say Yes- selling ideas internally

Sales is an important skill to master, even when you aren’t in a sales position.

In non-sales roles, the “product” you are most commonly selling when looking for support within your company is an idea. This generally takes shape from something you are passionate about or that solves an issue you see that keeps you or your organization from reaching peak performance.

It is great to have an idea, but it means almost nothing unless the idea leads to action.

The question beckons, HOW do you go about selling an idea within your company?  The following 6 strategies outline the most important things to keep in mind to ensure your ideas are agreed with, but also more importantly,  supported and acted on. For illustrations sake, let’s assume that you want to create an internal web tool that helps you improve your ability to manage projects.

  1. Who is who? Figure it out– The initial step in the process of selling an idea internally is to determine the right stakeholders that need to approve a decision.  This could be a simple as getting agreement from your boss or it could be as complex has needing to get your VP and the VP from 2 or 3 other business units to sign off on it. If you miss this step, you may get lost in an ocean of red tape that could prolong or even kill your idea. But if you get an understanding of the path to take at the start, then you can streamline the process.  For the internal web tool example, you would need to coordinate with not only the end users and your boss but with IT (who will develop the tool) and the internal communications team and training organization (who will help everyone become aware of the tool and teach them how to use it).
  2. Have Jerry Maguire’s Attitude, “Help Me, Help you“- An equally important part of selling your idea after determining who would be involved in agreeing to your idea, is to take this insight and tailor how you socialize the idea.  In the project management tool example, if you need to get the product team to agree to your idea then you would talk about all the efficiencies the tool will create, but if you are talking to the IT team that would build the tool, you want to focus in on how easy the tool would be to create and how you could use existing systems to build this new one. You always want to keep a “service mindset” where you are making the goal more about how the idea helps them as opposed to being self-centered. Talk in WIIFM language while recognition and satisfaction await you when you get agreement on your strategy,  it is important to focus your internal selling on What’s In It For ME (from their point of view).  Someone will care more and is more likely to support you if they can clearly see their benefit. Help facilitate this by clearly stating how they will benefit.
  3. Chip away at it, there are multiple steps– When putting together a plan to sell your idea, realize there are multiple steps. As any good marketer knows, a “customer” needs to encounter a message multiple times for it to sync in.  Often times it is important to present each step in a different way.  For example, I have been working on a strategy idea for an emerging market for my company.  In my “internal sales” plan I wrote a whitepaper, formally made a pitch deck for executives and brought in industry experts to expose internal decision makers to industry trends. I even started sporadically sending out applicable articles written by industry journalists that supported my idea to key internal people.
  4. Be prepared to run with it- One of the coolest parts of sharing your ideas and working to get them implemented is that you can have some control over the finished product.  Sometimes, though, this comes at a price, as your boss may pass an assignment right back at you when you present a good idea.  Be ready (and eager) to run with the tasks necessary to get everyone to agree on your idea. It shows initiative, which will be rewarded.
  5. Things change- With more “cooks in the kitchen,” realize that your idea may not be accepted by everyone in its original form as you tell more people about it. With regards to the project management tool example, IT may say implementing a certain feature is not possible, so you may need to adapt.  This is okay.  Stick to your principles with the core part of your idea and accept changes as long as they do not conflict with the main goal your idea is seeking to accomplish.
  6. Rome wasn’t built in a single day, but it burned in one– Patience is a virtue, but especially for young professionals can be hard to develop.  It is natural to want quick results.  Some ideas will be quick and easy, but many will take time (especially if it involves multiple departments). If you are not patient you may give up on your idea too soon and if you mismanage how you sell it internally then one key person who doesn’t like it may shut it down.

Whether big or small your areas are your differentiating factor. They are what makes you unique.  They are actually one of the primary reasons that you were hired into your job.  Don’t be afraid to let your voice be heard.  Remember that hall of fame baseball players only get a hit 3 out of every 10 at-bats. Not every one of your ideas will be brilliant, and even the brilliant ones will not all be implemented. Keep the ideas coming.  Your great ideas and more importantly, your keen ability to sell these ideas to your boss and others will be one of the main driving forces behind big promotions and bigger raises.




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About Young Professional's Edge (YP Edge)

Aaron McDaniel is a corporate manager, entrepreneur, author, public speaker and community leader. Aaron has held numerous management roles at a Fortune 500 company, being appointed Regional Vice President at the age of 27, and is the founder of multiple entrepreneurial ventures. He is also the author of the book, The Young Professional's Guide to the Working World ( Aaron instructed a highly rated student-led course on leadership at UC Berkeley’s Haas Undergraduate School of Business and has a book, The Young Professional's Guide to the Working World: Savvy Strategies to Get In, Get Ahead, and Rise to the Top, due to be out later this year. Aaron offers advice that helps young professionals build the foundation for a successful career. Visit his blog, to learn more.

Posted on December 8, 2011, in Tips & Tricks and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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